What drives communities in education and research?

Jisc’s 2023 community champions explain what motivates them to go the extra mile.

Work colleagues join hands in the centre of a circle.

Jisc’s community champions programme brings together inspirational groups that help people and institutions adapt and learn through the use of digital.  

Since the programme was established in 2020, the community space across education and research has grown. And with good reason. Communities play a vital role in making voices heard, combatting feelings of isolation and ensuring that best practices are shared for the benefit of all. 

This year’s community champions highlight the inspirational achievements of individuals who have enriched the experiences of their peers across the sector through collaboration and information sharing. 

We asked some of our community champions what motivates them.  

Feeling connected 

It’s clear that making connections is one of the major drivers for our community champions. 

Joy McLean, senior librarian at West College Scotland, who was nominated for her proactive approach and commitment as part of the leadership team of the FE library LRC community of practice, explains:   

“Although we work across the whole college, providing support and access to resources for all students and staff, it can be difficult for librarians to make their voices heard. Community is important because it provides a safe and welcoming space to share experiences, ask questions and learn from others who understand their role and what we’re trying to achieve.”  

She sees the connection with others throughout the sector as invaluable, not only for shedding light on common problems and frustrations but also in identifying solutions that can benefit the wider sector.  

Joy adds: 

“Sharing with and learning from my peers in our community helps me to feel connected and more confident in my own practice. I feel it’s important for everyone to have that same opportunity.” 

Erika Neck, learning resources co-ordinator at The College, Merthyr Tydfil, agrees: 

“As a librarian, it can sometimes feel like we work in isolation and are adrift in the world. I value being part of a wider community: having people to ask advice and guidance is of great importance.” 

Boosting confidence 

Building the confidence of community members is high on the list of motivations for our champions. 

Rachel Öner, an English for speakers of other languages (ESOL) education consultant, co-chairs a community to support the National Association for Teaching English and Other Community Languages to Adults (NATECLA), a volunteer-run organisation which connects ESOL teachers. She says: 

“What motivates me is seeing the immediate impact that the services and opportunities offered by NATECLA has on our members and supporters. They can take what they learn in our online spaces and use it to enhance their teaching and learning. Being able to access things like networking forums and continuing professional development (CPD) programmes really helps educators become more confident, more knowledgeable and more empowered.” 

Helping students 

Creating the very best learning experiences for students lies at the heart of many of our communities.  

Susan Robbins, senior fellow of the Higher Education Academy (HEA) and senior lecturer at the University of Sussex, was nominated for her work supporting colleagues with online teaching resources while focusing on the individual needs of students.  She finds working to positively impact student success and equity both challenging and rewarding.   

“My motivation comes from helping students feel invested in the process of learning. Though all students are concerned about the outcome of their studies, the ones who arguably gain the most from our work are those who are interested in the process of learning.”     

Strengthening collaboration 

A community provides support for all involved, and a great community fosters collaboration, both internally and with other institutions and organisations.  

Lisa Charkiewicz, learning resources manager at South Essex College of Further and Higher Education and part of the FE learning resources centre leadership team, explains what drives her commitment to sharing knowledge, encouraging peer-to-peer support and facilitating participation across the community. 

“A strong support network is what motivates me. For example, if someone reaches out asking for help or advice within the FE learning resources centre community group, someone will always answer. It’s so lovely to see engagement between colleges near and far and to see colleagues from across the sector immerse themselves in such a safe and supportive space online.” 

Adding value 

Valerie McCutcheon, research information manager from University of Glasgow, is inspired by the belief that working together means reaching solutions more efficiently. 

Susan Robbins concurs. Communities, she says, have a pivotal role in sense-checking ideas to ensure they meet real needs. 

“Rather than seeking to incorporate new ideas, approaches and technologies simply because they are new, I’m of the view that innovation can mean connecting people and ideas, facilitating dialogue, and curating existing research and resources to create value in a sustainable way that is context-sensitive and responsive to existing needs.” 

Continuing professional development 

Committing time and resources to building skills and competencies can be challenging, but communities provide support for staff looking for opportunities to develop.  

Seima Mahmood, an ESOL lecturer at Bradford College who created its Global Learning Project, observes:   

“Trying to succeed on your own is not as fun or as rewarding as succeeding together with a community. Communities inspire and help other staff members to discover their own CPD needs and then motivate themselves to embark on a learning journey.”  

The new cohort of Jisc community champions will be at Digifest to share details of how their communities have made a difference in the education and research sectors.  

Further information